Office of Student Life

Technology Services

Choosing the Right Cable

January 15, 2021

When connecting your computer, game console, or streaming media player to the wired network, the right cable makes all the difference. Network cabling continues to evolve to meet today and tomorrow's high bandwidth applications.

Network cables are divided into categories (often abbreviated as "Cat") based on their transmission speed, signal rate, and Ethernet standard supported. The current standards for computer networking are Cat 5eCat 6, and Cat 6a.

Cat 3 and Cat 5 cables are considered obsolete and should not be used.

Which category cable do I need?

ResNet recommends Cat 6; it doesn't cost much more than Cat 5e, is more resistant to interference, and is future-proof. However Cat 5e is more than adequate, and is more flexible and budget-friendly. Cat 6a is more expensive and not as flexible due to the additional thickness of shielding materials.

How do I know which category cable I have?

The category is typically printed on the outside of the cable's plastic sheathing. Look up and down the length of the cable while rotating it; you will see various specifications printed on the cable, one of those should be the category.

What's the difference between Cat 5e, Cat 6, and Cat 6a?

Transmission Speed

Cat 5e cable is capable of speeds up to 1Gbps (Gigabit Ethernet). Cat 6 and 6a are capable of up to 10Gbps (10Gig Ethernet).

Maximum Distance

Cat 5e and Cat 6a are able capable of maintaining throughput up to 328 ft (100 m), while Cat 6 can only go 180 ft (55 m).

Interference Mitigation

As data speeds have increased, so has a cable's susceptibility to interference, which can lead to slow performance and data loss. Resistance to interference improves as you move from Cat 5e to Cat 6 to Cat 6a.

Can I make my own cable?

We do not recommend you make your own cables because there are very tight tolerances needed at the termination point (cable & plug) to maintain performance and withstand interference with today's high-speeds. Improperly terminated cables are very susceptible to interference, slow performance, and data loss.

Can I use a phone cable?

No. Phone cables do not have much, if any interference resistance and would not be suitable for today's high-speed networks. Their original design was to carry analog voice signals and low bandwidth data. You do remember 56K modems don't you?

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